Organisational change has three dimensions: 1) what should be changed; 2) what should be kept the same; and 3) what isn’t even up for discussion.
Job interviews for change-agent candidates tend to focus only on what’s to be changed, while ignoring the other dimensions. But by bringing up all three elements during the interview process, you not only increase your chances of getting hired, you also make sure that once you’re on the job, you’ve set yourself up to succeed.
Once you’re in the semi-final or final round in the hiring cycle and you’re talking with the hiring authority, we recommend that you ask the following three questions:
1. What does the organisation want to see changed over the next 12 to 18 months?
Within this broad category, ask subquestions about processes, technology and company culture.
2. What does the organisation wish to preserve over the next 12 to 18 months?
Again, ask about processes, technology and culture. Listen carefully to the responses with an ear toward sorting the back-burner issues from the “what makes us special” factors. If you don’t get a clear sense of the difference between the two, ask for clarification.
3. What does the organisation wish to avoid at all costs over the next 12 to 18 months?
Every organisation has its sacred cows – even if you’re told the opposite, that “there are no sacred cows” and “you have carte blanche to change things as you see fit.” You should interpret those statements as, “We are not yet comfortable enough with you to discuss those issues. But we appreciate that you recognise them as issues.”
Don’t necessarily interpret an interviewer’s reluctance to discuss the three dimensions of change as a red flag. Hiring authorities may hesitate to delve into those issues for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s about a lack of training. Other times it has to do with a desire to limit discussion of problems with outsiders.
After the interview, send a letter to the hiring authority outlining how you would handle the first two weeks of employment, based on your understanding of the three dimensions of change you learned about in the interview. Put in capital letters “DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION PURPOSES” at the top of your report. You should stress that this is not a rigid plan – its only purpose is to provide the hiring authority with more information about how you would carefully approach the issue of change management.